Although Korea is officially Buddhist, today about 30% of the South Korean population is Christian. Korea has become known as the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday. Despite many similarities to how Christmas is celebrated in the West, Christian Koreans still put their own cultural spin on the beloved holiday.
Christmas, or Sung Tan Jul as it is called in Korea, is considered primarily a religious holiday, so although some families do put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents, most of the celebration revolves around attending mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.
Santa Harabujee is very popular among Korean children, handing out presents to children wearing a red or blue suit. Around the holiday season, many stores employ Santas to give out chocolates and candies to shoppers. Some families celebrate Christmas dinner with gatherings at the home but traditionally many Korean families prefer to go out for dinner. Christmas is seen as a holiday for love and romance, making it one of the busiest times of the year for restaurants.
A major difference that sets Christmas in Korea apart from Christmas in the West is thatmuch of the time, Christmas represents a time of celebration with friends and lovers, especially for younger people, while New Years is the time for family. Presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve and rather than receiving piles of presents, it is customary for people to each receive one present, often times a gift of money.
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